The Ethics of the Hyatt Regency Hotel Collapse

Assigning the responsibilities of the designer, the builder, and the owner of a project is an important issue in civil engineering. It is one of the biggest factors in assigning blame for structural failures (which was particularly evident in the infamous Kansas City Hyatt Regency Walkways Collapse). It is not always clear who should be held responsible for an incident. This can be exacerbated by inconsistent stories between parties. Establishing a consistent system for organizing responsibilities between parties could diminish this issue and even make our modern structures safer.

On July 17, 1981, the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, held a videotaped tea-dance party in their atrium lobby. With many party-goers standing and dancing on the suspended walkways, connections supporting the ceiling rods that held up the second and fourth-floor walkways across the atrium failed, and both walkways collapsed onto the crowded first-floor atrium below. The fourth-floor walkway collapsed onto the second-floor walkway, while the offset third-floor walkway remained intact. As the United States’ most devastating structural failure, in terms of loss of life and injuries, the Kansas City Hyatt Regency walkways collapse left 114 dead and in excess of 200 injured. In addition, millions of dollars in costs resulted from the collapse, and thousands of lives were adversely affected [1].

The case taught several lessons, but possibly the most significant is the importance of collaboration.  According to the company contracted to construct the building, Haven, a call was made to the structural engineering firm, G.C.E., for change approval on an alteration to a connection. G.C.E denied receiving this call. This connection ultimately failed, causing some ambiguity as to who was actually liable. Additionally, the engineering firm, reportedly asked to have an onsite inspector for the project but this was denied by Haven due to cost.

The issues:

  1. Did the call take place and, if so, was it sufficient?
  2. Should Haven hold liability for declining G.C.E’s onsite inspector request?


  • The On-site Inspector

Arguments can be made for both sides here. G.C.E did explicitly ask to be represented onsite, which puts some blame on Haven for denying this request. Conversely, G.C.E. requested payment for this inspection. This was not a service to the construction team, it was a responsibility of the structural firm. GCE should have provided the representative free of charge.

  • The Call

The solution to the ethics of the call resides in the regulations surrounding change orders. Haven may have received verbal confirmation to make the change via a phone call. If that is the case, how the engineer that they talked to had the authority to give that confirmation? How did they know this representative was who he said he was? How did Haven know that the calculations were verified or that they even existed? Haven had no way of knowing these things.

The only reasonable way for Haven to obtain this proof is from an official and notarized change order.

Obtaining a change order was the responsibility of Haven. Without one, Haven was working in direct infraction of the most current plan set.

Three changes need to be made

  1. The construction code of ethics must be made to require contractors to work exclusively off of official and verified planets (within a degree of reason).
  2. The structural engineering erring code of ethics must be made to forbid firms from being careless with confirmations they provide.
  3. Legislation must be passed which strictly outlines regulations as to which forms of confirmation can be accepted.


Work Cited

[1] “The Kansas City Hyatt Regency Walkways Collapse.” ENGINEERING ETHICS (n.d.): n. pag. Department of Philosophy and Department of Mechanical Engineering, TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY. Web. <;.

[2] Lowery, Lee, Jr. “Menu.” Zachry Department of Civil Engineering Ethics Site Case Studies Hyatt Regency Photos. TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY, n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. <;.




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